Remembering Rodney Speed

January 15, 2016

We’re saddened to report on the passing of Rodney Speed. A welcoming, familiar face at Wetlands Preserve, Speed worked at the club throughout its history from 1989 through 2001, filling a number of roles, while living his dream by remaining in such close proximity to music. Following the closing of Wetlands, Speed would find work in other area venues as a staffer and a DJ including CBGB’s, B.B. King’s and Brooklyn Bowl. He also became a performer in his own right as a member of the Rodney Speed Experience, which gigged across New York City.

Throughout his life, Rodney Speed maintained a deep appreciation and encyclopedic knowledge of music. Along with his positive spirit, Speed represented everything that one could hope for in a music fan and a member of the music community. He was a shining light to many.

His close friend, co-worker and bandmate  Jake Szufnarowski reflects, “I’m speechless. I’m stunned. I’m in shock. I’m completely devastated. I can hardly breathe, much less talk or type. Today I lost my best friend, my big brother, my little brother, my soul mate and my inspiration all at once. Rocks Off lost our mascot. The Rodney Speed Experience lost our leader. New York City lost our best DJ. The world of Rock N Roll lost our most loving and lively patron saint and its most spirited motivator and cheerleader… And the universe lost our biggest dreamer and its brightest soul.

Jake (and Rodney tattoo) and Rodney

The tributes to Rodney now flowing in, include one from the band Cheap Trick via Twitter, who also posted a photo:

Bill Stites added via Facebook, “I’m realizing that, as the sole constant member (other than the man himself) of the Rodney Speed Experience over the last damn-near-15 years, Rodney was actually the person I’ve been in a band with the longest in my life. I’m proud to have stood next to him as he lived out his dreams in front of packed houses at the clubs that loved him as family – Wetlands, CBGB, BB King’s – and so many others, for crowds that were often unsuspecting but never unappreciative. Jake‘s commitment to making sure Rodney’s life was as awesome as he was has never been less than inspiring, and I feel privileged to have been present for so many of the moments when Rodney’s normally taciturn demeanor melted away and the pure, childlike excitement and joy underneath came through. I mean, just look at this guy…the man was a true New York City rock&roll legend, and I’ll miss him.”

Szufnarowski also shared an account of Speed’s Wetlands performance debut, which first appeared on Jake’s blog.

Rodney and I met when I started working at Wetlands in 1994. Rodney was a Wetlands original – one of the few who worked from opening day to closing night. 12 years of service to the beast of Rock N Roll. Anybody who has met Rodney knows that he has always been a rock star, but for some strange reason he had never had his own band. I knew we had to get him on stage but wasn’t sure how. Then I had yet another one of my million dollar ideas. We used to do something at Wetlands called the “Powerjam” where we would rent a bunch of backline and invite the best and brightest musicians of the jam band scene to come down and just improvise all night long. For this particular night I advertised that we were going to have “a very special guest at the stroke of midnight – someone too hot to advertise” I dropped some hints to the right people that this very special guest was going to be Trey Anastasio of Phish and the rumor mill was one fire. At 11:40pm the “band” who had assembled onstage stopped and announced to the crowd that there would be a short break and that at midnight a new band would take the stage with this very amazing special guest.

At the witching hour the band walked onto the stage. It was Al and Chuck from moe. and Max Delaney of Uncle Sammy on guitars, Jim from moe. on flute(!), Aaron Comess of the Spin Doctors and Vinny from moe. on drums, Tom McKee of Brothers Past and Little Georgie Wood on keys, Backyard Bill Stites on bass, Pauly Herron on percussion, and DJ Motherfucking Stitch on turntables. There was also some Crazy fucking cab driver who had driven me home the night before who I invited to join in but that’s a story it it’s own right that might just best be left untold….

The band started out playing War Pigs by Black Sabbath and as the grooved through the extended into, a mysterious figure in a black robe and hood strode, with much swagga, out to center stage! Just as it was time for the vocals to he ripped off the hood and bellowed “Generals Gathered in the Masses” and revealed himself to the 700 people inside. Funny thing was, only about 7 of them knew who he was. They went bananas anyways. At the end of that song, I hit the stage to let everyone know who they were watching. And he got thunderous applause.

Their final song was the Deep Purple classic “Smoke on the Water”. One of the first guitar riffs that aspiring axemen learn. But when the band kicked into gear, Rodney’s keen musical sense knew something wasn’t right. Rodney sang the first line of the song and then turned to the band and told them “hold it, hold it!” He then proceeded to explain to Al Schnier, professional guiatrist extraordianire with more than 1,000 gigs and 1,000,000 miles under his belt, that HE WAS PLAYING THE SONG WRONG!!! Rodney told Al that he the song was in the the wrong key, that it needed to be played in G, and the pointed out the frets on the guitar neck that al needed to play the power chords on. Al complied, and the band followed suit, and Rodney grabbed the mic and screamed “Now that’s what IM talkin’ about!” and DJ Stitch started cutting and scratching on the phrase “OH SHIT.” The band proceeded to tear the house down with a raging version of the tune… and the legend of Rockin Rodney Speed was cemented! I’ve seen a lot of shit in my day, but I’ve never seen a literal first-timer school of a buncha of fucken PROS onstage in front of a sold out crowd. Rockin’ Rodney Speed is truly one of a kind. When God made Rodney, he didn’t brake the mold. Rodney tore that mold out of God’s hand, threw it on the ground, and stomped on it like it was a narc at a biker rally. I’m not exaggerating a single fucking piece of that story. And here’s the proof:

R.I.P. Rodney